Bantry Blues ace recognised with second All-Star award

Posted on: 14th January, 2019

Category: Sports Life – Interviews

Contributor: John Bohane

Bantry Blues and Cork senior footballer Emma Spillane was recently honoured for her outstanding displays for the Rebelettes once again in 2018 with her second successive All-Star award, a remarkable achievement for the sports star who only recently turned 20. The Blues ace produced a plethora of outstanding performances, as she helped the Cork senior team win the Munster championship title and reach the All-Ireland final. John Bohane catches up with the West Cork football player, who is eager for more success.

The sports heroine was thrilled to be recognised for the second consecutive season with an All-Star award. Emma was rewarded for producing a series of great displays for the Cork senior footballers who enjoyed a sustained run in the All-Ireland championship. “It is great to be recognised for the hard work that has gone in throughout the season. It is a privilege to be nominated in the first place when you look at the talent around you. I was absolutely delighted with the award.”

Emma was accompanied to the recent prestigious awards ceremony, which was held in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin, by her proud parents. She is very grateful and appreciative to her parents and entire family for their support and encouragement throughout her sporting journey. “My parents were thrilled with my recent award win. They have been a great support all up along, travelling the width and the breadth of the country for matches or even driving me to Cork for training sessions. They have played a huge role in my development.”

Emma, who is currently studying Commerce in UCC, took up playing football with her beloved Bantry Blues at the age of seven. It has been quite the journey for the Gaelic football star, who credits her father and older sister for inspiring her interest in the sport from such a young age. “I started playing football with the boys team in Bantry when I was seven. My father was very involved in the local GAA club, so I would have always been going to matches with him from a young age. My older sister would have been on various underage Cork panels also so that helped me stick at it. I’ve always enjoyed playing and watching the game.”

She balances her intense football commitments with the county team, college and club sides along with college and work demands brilliantly. Attending college in Cork has made it easier for the Bantry native to make training sessions and games, as she revealed. “In a way it’s easier when I’m up in Cork for college during the week. Trainers with both the Cork and the college team would also be very understanding with regards games and training sessions around my college commitments.”

Emma who operates as a defender for the Cork senior footballers has always modelled her game on Bantry Blues GAA legend Graham Canty who also enjoyed much success from an inter-county perspective. Emma has always been inspired by the Bantry man who captained the Cork senior footballers to All-Ireland glory in 2010. “When I was very young I would have looked up to Graham Canty. He was a great player and leader. He was a great captain and an inspirational figure on the Cork team who won the All-Ireland title in 2010. It has always been my goal to win a senior All-Ireland title. I have been fortunate that so many top class coaches between my school, club and county teams have played such huge roles in my development as a player.”

The ace defender loves representing her beloved Bantry Blues on the national stage. She is grateful to all within the Blues GAA Club who have offered her great support and coaching throughout the years. She loves playing her club football with Bantry. “It is a very supportive club. It’s nice playing with girls that you grew up with and went to school with. They have been great to me all up along. Hopefully in the next few years we can develop further as a club, particularly the senior team. There’s a lot of talent coming up from underage level which is great to see. We have a lot of very talented players. It is refreshing to see various different girls playing with the underage Cork teams also. This year we had three girls on the Cork minor team as well as Anne O’Grady as a selector. This is a great boost for the club.”

Bantry Blues GAA Club are currently working on developing their main pitch which will make the Wolfe Tone Park one of the top pitches in Cork once again. The club are also embarking on an ambitious drive to construct a new training pitch with floodlights adjacent to Wolfe Tone Park. Emma is delighted with the hard work and ambitions the club officers are displaying as they seek to restore glory to this proud club in the foreseeable future. “A lot of work goes into the club and training the various teams. In the past few years there has been huge development in the club with the astro-turf and the new gym. The new pitch and the proposed training pitch will be great additions.”

Following Cork’s defeat to Dublin in this year’s All-Ireland final, Emma and her colleagues took a much needed break from training and playing for a month or so to recharge the batteries following their challenging season. Emma loves playing under the Cork senior team management team which includes Ephie Fitzgerald and James Masters amongst others. “After the All-Ireland final defeat in September, I would have taken a break for a month or so. We played the league with UCC earlier on in the semester. It’s mainly gym work at this time of year though. All the management team put in an absolutely huge effort this year. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes. They are great to play under and work with.”

Cork were defeated by a strong Dublin team by five points in this year’s All-Ireland final. Cork ended the season as Munster champions, but Emma is confident Cork will be competing for All-Ireland glory once again next season. “We had a bit of a disappointing league campaign at the beginning of the year losing out narrowly to Mayo in the semi final stages. However, the Munster championship was a huge success for us and it was great to get that win going into the All-Ireland championship. We were delighted to get to Croke Park in September, but I suppose it was hugely disappointing to just fall short. Dublin are very strong, they have a huge selection of players. Hopefully we’ll be back again next year. I think losing the final this year will make us even hungrier again for next year. Mourneabbey winning the All-Ireland club final title recently will also be a huge boost for those girls.”

Emma enjoyed a very successful underage career with the Cork minor team under the guidance of John Cleary with whom she won All-Ireland honours. She revealed it took her a while to find her bearings after she made the step-up to the inter-county adult grade. The West Cork sports star admits she had concerns following her call up to the senior set-up. “Initially I was worried about training with the senior team, as I was playing with a lot of girls who I was used to watching on TV. Playing a few games in the league campaign helped me to get a taste of senior football and I suppose that settled the nerves a small bit. The physicality of the game would have been the biggest change I noticed when I moved up from minor football. Girls are much stronger, so it is a bit of a shock to the system. The league is very good and beneficial in that way, younger girls can get a feel of senior football before the championship begins.”

The recent All-Ireland senior final between Cork and Dublin attracted over 50,000 supporters to the final. Emma loved her experience of playing in Croke Park. She is delighted ladies football continues to grow thanks to more exposure and sponsorship deals. “Playing in Croke Park was a great experience. It is great to see the work being done by Lidl and TG4 to get huge crowds to go to the games. This year it was fantastic to see another record breaking attendance at the final.”

Emma was joined on the Cork senior panel by a large number of players from various other West Cork clubs. Aine Terry O’Sullivan (Garnish), Libby Coppinger (St Colum’s) and Melissa Duggan all played influential roles in helping Cork enjoy a productive season. The West Cork senior footballers also enjoyed a very successful season. All-Ireland champions Mourneabbey required a replay to over them in the senior county final. Emma is delighted with the growing contribution West Cork ladies football continues to make. “The three girls all had excellent seasons. It’s great to see girls from smaller clubs able to be play senior football as well. They are a showcase of the unbelievable talent that we have here in West Cork. The West Cork senior ladies team did super this season reaching the county final and only narrowly missing out on glory. The talent coming through is also phenomenal, so hopefully next year they can drive it on again. The future for ladies football in West Cork is very bright. There is plenty of talent around here. I think there are already numerous girls on the Cork U14 panel for the coming season, so hopefully we will have representatives on the other underage panels also.”

Promising O’Donovan Rossa player Laura O’Mahony is another footballer tipped to enjoy a successful future. The pacey Skibbereen star enjoyed a great season with her club, divisional side and the Cork minor team. Emma is thrilled with her progress. “Laura had a fantastic year with the minor team. She is an outstanding player with so much talent. She has a very bright future ahead of her.”

Emma is looking forward to the National League resuming in February. She is hopeful the Cork senior ladies will enjoy another successful season as they seek to capture the Brendan Martin Cup for the first time since 2016. “We’ll take next year one step at a time starting with the league at the beginning of February. The overall goal will always be to be playing big games in Croke Park in September.”

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